Hartford — After two full days of testimony from the plaintiff’s witnesses, Rabbi Daniel Greer’s team presented a short-winded rebuttal Tuesday morning in a civil trial here over accusations of long-running sexual abuse.
Defense attorneys called only two witnesses — Greer and his longtime secretary, Jean Ledbury — and wrapped their questioning after less than 45 minutes.
Throughout the trial, the defense lawyers have tried to slight the rabbi’s accusers, Eliyahu Mirlis and Aviad Hack, as a troublemakers with ulterior motives. Mirlis filed the suit in U.S. District Court charging that Greer, a prominent rabbi who built an Orthodox community and renovated homes around a yeshiva in New Haven’s Edgewood neighborhood, repeatedly sexually abused him from 200 through 2005. Greer invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked on the stand about those allegations.
On Monday, Sarah Greer, the rabbi’s wife, testified that she never liked her husband’s accuser, from the time he started at the Yeshiva of New Haven. On Tuesday, Ledbury recounted an episode when Mirlis stole and made a copy of the school’s keys. More recently, she added, she saw Facebook pictures of him waterskiing, allegedly showing him apparently unfazed by his the trauma of his teenage years.
And in Greer’s second time on the stand, he cast doubt Tuesday on the motivations of Hack, the yeshiva’s assistant dean who seconded the accusations of sexual abuse in a deposition played for jurors last week. (Hack said Greer started sexually abusing him when he had been a student at the school.)
As defense lawyers entered several documents into evidence, Greer outlined Hack’s supposed plot to take ownership of the school, booting the rabbi and his wife from the yeshiva’s board of directors and replacing him on property deeds.
Greer’s wife and secretary both praised the rabbi, by contrast, as a respected man of the cloth and disputed the notion that he could have sexually abused the boys right under their nose.
When Mirlis’s attorney, Antonio Ponvert, took his turn to examine the witnesses, he sought to minimize the women’s role in the yeshiva and pointed out that each had her own conflicts of interest. At one point, Ponvert cornered Leadbury into admitting that Greer has an explosive temper and had yelled at her over the years.
The day’s most tense exchange came in a final showdown between Ponvert and Greer that ended the trial testimony. The questions grew so personal that Judge Michael P. Shea routinely interjected and reprimanded the plaintiff’s lawyer.
After defense attorney David Grudberg presented several documents to the jurors, allegedly showing that Hack had asked the rabbi to distance himself from the yeshiva and let others take over operations, Ponvert needled Greer.
Ponvert: Do you know who drafted those documents?
Greer: I have no idea, but [Hack] told me he had drafted them.
Ponvert: He said that to you?
Ponvert: Really? That came up in conversation?
Greer: Yes, that’s what he said.
Ponvert: Didn’t your lawyers draft these?
Greer: I beg your pardon.
Ponvert: I believe you heard me.
Greer: No, I didn’t.
Ponvert: Didn’t your lawyer draft these?
Ponvert: I take it from everything that just happened here that you believe Avi Hack has done something in connection with the yeshiva that you find to be improper?
Grudberg objected; Shea agreed it was outside the scope of the testimony. After a sidebar in which counsel talked animatedly with the judge, Ponvert resumed.
If character witnesses were the order of the day, Ponvert asked where Greer’s supporters were — as the benches behind him sat largely unfilled. “You mentioned your sons. Where are they today?” (Greer’s son, who had helped him run the school, have left town since the filing of the lawsuit and have cut ties with him.)
This time Shea didn’t need an objection to intercede. “Don’t ask questions like that,” he instructed.
Ponvert made one final remark: “Do you agree that if those things alleged in this case are true, that signing over your authority is proper and that you should not have in any role in the care and security of other people’s children?”
Greer didn’t get a chance to answer. Shea said the question was out of line and told the jury to disregard it. The judge dismissed the panel and told them to prepare for deliberations that will begin Wednesday morning, after each party presents final closing arguments.
Previous coverage of this case:
• Suit: Rabbi Molested, Raped Students
• Greer’s Housing Corporations Added To Sex Abuse Lawsuit
• 2nd Ex-Student Accuses Rabbi Of Sex Assault
• 2nd Rabbi Accuser Details Alleged Abuse
• Rabbi Sexual Abuse Jury Picked
• On Stand, Greer Invokes 5th On Sex Abuse
• Rabbi Seeks To Bar Blogger from Court
• Trial Mines How Victims Process Trauma